Will Tricare Cover Lasik?

For many in the military, vision is not just about seeing clearly; it’s about performance, safety, and readiness. 

LASIK surgery, a popular form of laser eye surgery that corrects vision, often emerges as a beacon of hope for those reliant on glasses or contact lenses. 

However, the question at the forefront for military personnel, veterans, and Tricare beneficiaries is: Does Tricare cover LASIK surgery?

Understanding the coverage policies of Tricare, the health care program serving Uniformed Service members, retirees, and their families, is crucial. 

This blog post aims to shed light on the topic, offering detailed, researched content that adds value and answers pressing questions for its readers.


Understanding Tricare

Tricare is a healthcare program serving Uniformed Service members, retirees, and their families worldwide. 

It provides comprehensive coverage designed to meet the unique needs of the military community. 

However, when it comes to elective procedures like LASIK, Tricare’s policies are more specific and require a detailed understanding.


LASIK Surgery: An Overview

LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis) is a surgical procedure that reshapes the cornea to correct vision problems such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. 

Despite its popularity and high success rate, LASIK is generally considered an elective procedure, which impacts how insurance plans, including Tricare, cover it.


Is LASIK Covered by Tricare?

The short answer is that Tricare generally does not cover LASIK surgery as it is considered an elective procedure.

According to official Tricare guidelines, elective vision correction surgery, including LASIK and PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy), are not typically covered benefits. 

These procedures are classified as cosmetic or elective because they are not medically necessary and are primarily chosen to free the individual from glasses or contact lenses.


Exceptions and Special Circumstances

While the standard policy is that LASIK is not covered because it’s elective, there are exceptions within the military for specific circumstances where refractive surgeries, including LASIK, may be deemed necessary for operational effectiveness. 

In such cases, the Department of Defense (DoD) offers programs through military treatment facilities (MTFs) that may provide refractive surgeries for active-duty service members. 

Eligibility for these programs often requires meeting certain criteria, including but not limited to, deployment readiness, specific occupational requirements, and the individual’s refractive stability.


Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program (WRESP)

One such program is the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program (WRESP). 

Designed to enhance the operational effectiveness of active-duty service members, WRESP provides LASIK and PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) surgeries at select MTFs across the United States. 

Candidates for this program must obtain command approval and undergo a comprehensive evaluation to determine their suitability for surgery. 

It’s important to note that while WRESP may cover the cost of the procedure for eligible active-duty members, the availability of services can vary by location and may be subject to waiting lists due to high demand.

Also, retirees and family members of active-duty service members are not eligible for refractive surgery through DoD programs like WRESP. They must consider civilian providers for LASIK surgery and should be prepared to cover the cost out-of-pocket or explore other insurance options that may offer coverage for elective procedures.


Service-Related Injuries

In cases where visual impairment is directly related to or aggravated by service-related activities, Tricare may cover corrective surgery. These are assessed on a case-by-case basis, requiring thorough documentation and justification for the medical necessity of the procedure.


Medical Necessity

In rare cases, if a service member has a vision problem that cannot be corrected adequately with glasses or contacts and is impacting their military duties, a case might be made for the medical necessity of refractive surgery. These instances are exceptional and require thorough evaluation and documentation.


Navigating Your Options

For Tricare beneficiaries who do not qualify under the above exceptions, there are several strategies to consider for managing the costs of LASIK surgery:


Using HSA or FSA for LASIK Expenses

Using a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account to pay for LASIK can be a tax-advantaged way to cover costs. Both accounts allow you to use pre-tax dollars for eligible medical expenses, including LASIK. Be sure to check the annual contribution limits and plan accordingly.


Military Discounts

Many LASIK centres offer discounts to military personnel and veterans. While these discounts don’t come from Tricare, they can significantly reduce the out-of-pocket costs of the surgery. 

It’s always worth asking about military discount programs when considering LASIK providers.


Financing Plans

Some eye surgery centres offer financing plans for LASIK, making the procedure more accessible through monthly payments. These plans may have interest, so be sure to understand the terms and compare options before committing.


Making an Informed Decision

For military personnel and veterans considering LASIK surgery, the decision involves weighing the benefits of the procedure against the financial cost and potential risks. Here are several strategies to guide you in making a well-informed decision:

  1. Consult with an Eye Care Professional: Before making any decisions, it’s crucial to consult with an eye care professional who can evaluate your vision, discuss the potential benefits and risks of LASIK, and determine if you’re a suitable candidate for the surgery.
  2. Research Military Programs: If you’re an active-duty service member, explore the refractive surgery programs available through the DoD. Contact your base’s medical facility or visit the official Tricare website for more information on eligibility and application processes.
  3. Consider All Costs: Beyond the surgery itself, consider the associated costs, including pre-surgery consultations, follow-up care, and any potential for future enhancements.
  4. Read Reviews and Seek Recommendations: Look for reviews of LASIK centers and surgeons, and seek recommendations from fellow service members or veterans who have undergone the procedure.


Summing Up

While Tricare typically does not cover LASIK surgery due to its elective nature, understanding the nuances of your coverage, exploring special programs for military members, and researching alternative funding options are vital steps in your LASIK surgery planning. 

Even without direct coverage, there are pathways to achieving better vision that align with the needs and budgets of Tricare beneficiaries. 

Remember, the decision to undergo LASIK should be made with careful consideration and professional guidance to ensure the best outcomes for your vision and health.


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